If the last weeks of winter and the early days of spring were any indication, the coming season should prove highly interesting for Comics Studies. As Stephan Packard did in February’s column for the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor), I will try to give a brief overview on recent developments in the German-speaking fraction of the world. Certain overlaps with Martin de la Iglesia’s News Review column cannot be wholly avoided, but I will try to keep those to a minimum.
While Stephan Packard mentioned the ComFor’s general aim to advance plans for a German Journal for Comic Studies only two months ago, the Institute for Neuere deutsche Literatur und Medien (Current German Literature and Media) at Kiel University pushed forward and announced plans to launch the first issue of CLOSURE – the first German E-Journal for Comic Studies – no later than October 15th. Named after Scott McCloud’s term for the principal cognitive operation bridging sequential ‘gaps and gutters’, CLOSURE is going to combine peer review with open access to provide a platform for a wide range of interdisciplinary perspectives and approaches. Abstracts for contributions to the journal’s first issue, which will not yet be restricted to a specific topic, are very much welcome up until May 16th (in German, though). In addition to CLOSURE, plans for another independent online-magazine specializing in comic book culture were announced by ComFor’s founding member Martin Frenzel: Comicoskop follows a more journalistic approach, however, intending to engage with a much broader audience on reviews, interviews, and cultural discussions. Plans aim the launch somewhere towards June.
With regard to online publications, a highly commendable free online reader covering World War I in comics has been made available by the organizers of the LMU Munich’s exhibition “Tout le monde kaputt” – Der Erste Weltkrieg im Comic (which ran from the 15th of January to April the 11th). The reader’s editors, Sylvia Kesper-Biermann and Bettina Severin-Barboutie from the university’s Department of History Studies, also arranged a series of lectures surrounding the exhibition.
With regard to print publications, the ComFor is proud to announce yet another collection of its own: The close-to 500 page volume Comics & Politik / Comics & Politics, edited by Stephan Packard (in the Ch. A. Bachmann publishing house). Including most of the contributions of ComFor’s 7th annual conference in Freiburg 2012 as well as additional chapters from an international assortment of comics scholars, the collection addresses a wide range of phenomena relating graphic narration to political issues: the role of comic books is reflected to range from archive to agent, from resistance to propaganda. A considerable number of articles are in English, making this an essential contribution from an international perspective, as well.
This year’s list of German publications on comics was opened up a few months earlier, however. Publishing house Reclam made the foray with Klaus Schikowski’s 300-page ‘global map’ Der Comic. Geschichte, Stile, Künstler (Its history, styles and artists). Schikowski, who oversaw the editorial board of the specialized magazine Comixene for some time, promises an international survey on 20th century comic book history (with a strong focus on artistic styles) as well as a take on recent phenomena such as digital and webcomics.
Speaking of which, the upcoming Erlangen Comic-Salon (from June 19th to 22nd), Germany’s largest comics exhibition and convention, will not only host the recurrent ComFor panel – this year’s focus being on World War I in comic books – but will also see a new focus on webcomics and online publishing. Already in 2013, about 150 German webcomic artists from more than 60 current online projects joined together to found Comic Solidarity, a network of independent online publishers working mainly on a non-profit basis. The Comic Salon’s cooperation with Comic Solidarity, “Webcomics in Focus”, will feature discussion panels, presentations, talks, and probably a series of academic lectures on emerging webcomic aesthetics as well.
There have already been so many festivals and exhibitions on comic books during the last two months, that it has become quite challenging to keep track: from March 31st to April the 4th, Hamburg celebrated its third annual Graphic Novel Tage under the heading of Sprechende Bilder (eloquent images), featuring many internationally well-established artists. On the same weekend, April the 4th and 5th, you could also visit the Comiciade in Aachen and listen to Lars Banhold’s lecture on the relation between comics and philosophy (Das Sein in Bildern, das Denken in Blasen – Being in Pictures, Thinking in bubbles). The renowned Leipzig Book Fair featured quite a huge Manga Comic Con from March 13th to 16th, and Dresden saw not one but two exhibitions on Jewish identity in comic books: One on French artist Joann Sfar in the Kunstfoyer, another on the more general topic of Jewish artists in Europe, the United States and Israel in the Kunsthaus (the latter still running until the 4th of May). Our German-speaking neighbors celebrated some events well worthy of mention, too: for one, Switzerland’s International Comix-Festival Fumetto in Luzern (from April the 5th up to the 13th), which has developed from a local event to one of the most important comic festivals of Europe; for another, Austria’s only comic book exhibition, the Nextcomic Festival, which took place in Linz, Wels and Steyr from March the 20th to the 28th. If you missed all of those, there’s still a chance to visit the one-day Comicinvasion Berlin on April 26th. While this is mainly intended as a newly established artist/publisher/fan-convention (2014 is only its second installment), the organizers also promise concerts, film screenings, and some cultural exhibitions.
Moving back to issues of scholarly interest, I would like to point to an upcoming conference which might be especially interesting to comics studies right now. Back in autumn 2013, Véronique Sina, Andreas Rauscher, Stephan Packard and Hans-Joachim Backe of the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaft GfM (the German Society for Media Studies) joined together to found the AG Comicforschung (Comic Studies Board). With an initial 15 members present at founding and growing quite rapidly since then, the workgroup is concerned with comics as a ‘form of media’. Lest whatever that means exactly stays notoriously elusive, the Board is going to hold a two-day workshop on April 25th/26th at Ruhr University of Bochum. Under the heading “Comic studies meet Media Studies”, the participants are going to discuss approaches from media theory, transmedia narratology, gender theory, and other perspectives in a total of five lectures and lengthy discussion groups. Since I will be participating, you can see why I might be biased concerning my enthusiasm – but check out the schedule online. Roger Dale Jones’ presentation (as well as audience contributions, at discretion) will be in English.
Lastly, while there were too many German Calls for Papers that could be interpreted to include comics to name here, as well as a considerable number that did mention comics as possible references amongst other media, I would like to point out one upcoming conference that is especially salient to our topic: from November 14th to 15th, the University of Köln is going to host the interdisciplinary symposium Mediale Zeitenwende (media at a turning point), focusing exclusively on recent developments in visual narration. The conference’s focus on digital ‘revolutions’, transmedia relations, and new approaches to the theory of visual narratives should render this an exciting event.
With regard to past conferences, it might be worth noting that the Graduate Academy of the University of Tuebingen hosted an international 5-days workshop on Transmedia Storytelling in Convergent Media Culture, organized by Jan-Noël Thon of the Department of Media Studies. Not only did it feature internationally renowned keynote speakers such as Marie-Laure Ryan (Boulder), Elizabeth Evans (Nottingham) and Espen Aarseth (Copenhagen), it also focused a whole day on the specific topic of comic books’ relations to other media. Speakers included the ComFor-members Stephan Packard (“Closing the Open Signification: Transmedial Chronotopoi in Comics”), Laura Oehme (“The Transmedial World of/in Watchmen”) and, of course, Jan-Noël Thon himself (with the opening keynote). Presentations were also given on “Remediation as (Simulated) Transmedia Franchise: The Case of Scott Pilgrim” (by Johannes Fehrle), “The Joker, the Bat and the Integrity of Transmedial Narration” (by Matteo Riatti), “’They are Everywhere!’: The Walking Dead and Transmedia Worldbuilding” (by Hanns Christian Schmidt), and “Wandering the Panels, Walking Through Media: Zombies, Comics and the Transmedial Postapocalyptic World” (by Bernard Perron). An extensive English conference report on all the presentations and discussions should be online soon, so expect that link in our next update in June.
Lukas R. A. Wilde, M.A., is doctoral candidate at the Department for Media Studies of Tuebingen University; previously, he studied at Erlangen University and the Gakugei Daigaku of Tokyo; he is on the editing board of the website of the German Society of Comic Studies (ComFor). His focus of interest is on picture theory; animation studies; the representation of sound in graphic narratives; as well as diagrammatic reasoning. – Der Witz der Relationen. Komische Inkongruenz und diagrammatisches Schlussfolgern im Webcomic XKCD. (Stuttgart 2012); „Die ›gezeichnete Tonspur‹ und ihre Alternativen: Zur widerständigen Rolle der Akustik im ›Medium Comic‹.“ In: Christian A. Bachmann (ed.): Bildlaute & laute Bilder. Zur ›Audiovisualität‹ von Bilderzählungen (Essen 2014).